Ho Chi Minh City streets are shrinking everyday and illegal taxi parking on busy streets is not helping.
Last Friday, these Thanh Nien reporters found that taxis parked along the Bui Thi Xuan, Suong Nguyet Anh, Le Lai, Ton That Tung, Pham Ngu Lao, and Dong Khoi streets in District 1 had turned the busy, narrow streets into "parking lots."
Taxis also routinely line up on Ly Tu Trong, Nguyen Du, Le Thanh Ton, Nguyen Huu Canh, Ham Nghi, and Nguyen Binh Khiem streets, also in District 1, blocking the entrance to filling stations, restaurants and hotels.
Parked right under a "No parking" sign on Bui Thi Xuan Street, a Vinasun taxi-regulating officer said being in a prime passenger pick-up spot was more important than worrying about being fined. "We need as many customers as we can get. By parking here, we can pick up people as soon as they hail a taxi."
As another taxi rounded the corner, this regulator directed the driver to join the line in the no-parking zone.
Bui Thi Xuan Street is full of bustling hotels and restaurants -and taxi customers. With cars along one side, and taxis illegally parked on the other, there is barely any road left.
"If a 50-seat bus enters the street right now, there will be a gridlock," said a resident.
A similar scene awaits on the congested Le Thanh Ton Street. A long line of taxis block the road near Chi Lang Park, with vehicles entering and exiting Parkson's parking lot adding to the confusion.
Worse is the situation outside major hospitals such as Tu Du, Cho Ray, Children's Hospitals No. 1 and No. 2, where taxi drivers often do not bother lining up, park randomly, and fight over customers.
Under the city's Transport Development Planning 2020 and Visions After 2020, the city will set aside 31 hectares (76.6 acres) for taxi parking across the city, space enough for 12,700 taxis.
However, according to the HCMC Center for Management of Public Transport, there are already 12,551 licensed taxis and thousands of unlicensed taxis operating in the city. At the moment, only 2.3 hectares of space is assigned to taxi parking.
As taxis drive around the city looking for parking space and passengers, they also contribute to air pollution and traffic congestion.
The director of a taxi company, on condition of anonymity, admitted that most taxi companies do not want to build parking lots because of soaring construction costs which will inevitably roll over to passengers.
"If taxi fares are raised now, when consumer prices are rising, they [taxi companies] will lose customers," he said.
On the streets, the major taxi companies win the struggle for space in prime locations across the city. Taxis of smaller companies that cannot find space in downtown spread farther out into suburban districts.
Nam, a taxi driver, said, "We [drivers] would rather park on crowded streets or at filling stations instead of wandering until customers hail." He added that drivers often had to "buy" parking space.
When the police come knocking, drivers either flee with or without their taxis to avoid paying parking fines.
"The police can't make a report if the driver is not present. They are not allowed to remove the license plate and do not have equipment to tow the car away," he said.
However, when they cannot escape, they end up forking out a great deal of their day's earnings in fines. Nam once paid VND1.6 million ($76) for two parking violations in 24 hours. That day, his earnings could not make up for the losses.
Ta Long Hy, director of HCMC Taxis Association, said they had complained repeatedly about the lack of taxi parking zones to the Municipal Transport Department with no avail.
The transport department had suggested that parking lots be built in suburban districts but the proposal was shelved when taxi companies said taxi fares may rise given the distances between downtown and suburban districts.
Meanwhile, a silent struggle for parking space continues on the streets as taxi companies wait for city officials to find effective solutions to the gridlock.